Field of screams: Snow delays spring sports seasonPREP SPORTS: Maybe the Minnesota State High School League can sponsor new spring activities to replace ones like baseball and softball that have been hampered by unseasonably cold and snowy weather. How about shoveling? Or snowball throwing?
By: Rick Weegman, Duluth News Tribune
Maybe the Minnesota State High School League can sponsor new spring activities to replace ones like baseball and softball that have been hampered by unseasonably cold and snowy weather.
How about shoveling? Or snowball throwing? Perhaps medals can be handed out for best snow angels?
That’s about the only way athletes from the Northland will be able to compete in spring activities anytime soon.
The latest storm Thursday and Friday dumped several more inches of snow on most area fields, many of which still have a layer of frost underneath the drifts.
“If you could shovel the snow off, you could play hockey,” said Hermantown softball coach Tom Bang, who poked through the snow on his field the other day only to find a sheet of ice.
Hermantown activities director Beth Clark said Friday that her school’s baseball field on Maple Grove Road had drifts as high as 6 feet, making it impossible to even see out the dugouts.
And more snow — perhaps as much as half a foot in the Duluth area and 8 inches on the Iron Range — is expected today.
“We can’t even get in our parking lot,” Hermantown baseball coach Mike Zagelmeyer said. “The softball team tried to do something on its field and they got stuck in the parking lot.
“We’re quite a ways away from doing anything on our field. And once the snow gets off, you are still looking at a week to two weeks before that frost gets out of the ground — otherwise, it’s like playing on a sponge that’s fully wet.”
Hermantown postponed four home games last week and this week, with more to come. Since the Hawks play most Section 7AA opponents home and away, they tried to swap dates but to no avail since other schools’ fields aren’t ready either.
“Everybody’s in the same boat,” Zagelmeyer said.
Colleges are in an even worse predicament since their seasons end several weeks before the high schools. But at least those teams have the ability to travel south to such snow-barren places as Wayne, Neb., and Omaha, Neb., where Minnesota Duluth’s baseball and softball teams, respectively, were scheduled to play this weekend.
Wisconsin-Superior’s baseball and softball teams planned trips to Platteville, Wis., this weekend because their home fields are unplayable.
“I have been around this area for a long time and I just don’t remember a spring like this,” UWS athletic director Steve Nelson said on his school’s website. “To have this much snow, this late in the year, is unlike anything we’ve experienced. I feel really bad for the athletes in the spring sports, and not just at the college level. This is having a dramatic effect on the high school and youth athletes as well.”
A few baseball teams, such as Eveleth-Gilbert, Virginia, Nashwauk-Keewatin and Mesabi East played in the Metrodome earlier this month, but most haven’t even been outside to practice.
For those who have practiced outdoors, a new piece of equipment often has been necessary: a shovel. As sad as that is, it can be quite humorous, too.
Carlton baseball coach Ryan Schmidt says Venezuelan foreign exchange student Otto Gonzalez “thought it was the funniest thing ever that we were out shoveling snow off the baseball field.”
Instead, plenty of time is being spent in school gymnasiums working on the same routines — but often not on aspects that are most needed.
Duluth East’s baseball team has spent most of its time in batting cages, while using tennis balls for fielding drills.
“We can’t utilize our gym for baseball because there are too many things to break,” coach John Rudolph said.
East called off at least six events last week, with another dozen or so in jeopardy this week, AD Shawn Roed said. The Greyhounds have an artificial turf softball field behind Ordean East Middle School — a field that colleges often covet — but that field is not playable yet, either.
“Our turf fields and track have been snowblown once already, and there is still substantial snow cover on them,” Roed said. “We have had to turn away CSS and UMD softball, soccer and lacrosse teams — not to mention our own programs.”
Tennis and track and field teams have been similarly affected; and good luck to golf teams getting onto an area course in the next month.
Superior AD Ray Kosey says his school’s teams have been flexible utilizing what facilities they can. Wisconsin-Superior’s indoor track has come in handy, while tennis players have practiced at the Arrowhead indoor facility in Duluth. The girls soccer team used St. Scholastica’s artificial turf field, the baseball team used the school parking lot to pitch and catch and the golf team hit balls into nets in the wrestling room, while other athletes have used the gym, weight and fitness rooms and even hallways for practice.
“Coaches are being creative with practice plans and activities to keep spirits up for our athletes until we can get outside,” Kosey said.
Exceptions to the rule are Cherry and Silver Bay, whose softball teams typically are the first Northland teams to play home games.
Darrell Bjerklie, coach of Cherry’s unbeaten 2012 Class A state champions, says his team held five practices at the community field in McDavitt Township, thanks to residents who removed snow and the fact that the fields were built on a gravel base.
Silver Bay coach Mike Guzzo says the city street department cleared all the snow off the baseball and softball fields March 21, allowing the team to practice outside twice in early April. A foot of snow fell a few days later.
“Anybody who didn’t plow their fields is in big trouble, I think,” Guzzo said.